Don't let anyone underestimate the importance of the quarterback. Sure, people are going to throw around names like Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer when they argue that "You can win a Super Bowl without a great quarterback!" and sure that's true. But it's really damn difficult.
If you want to see the difference of two extremes though, look no further than the Carolina Panthers 2010 and 2011 seasons.
In 2010, the Panthers used a second round draft pick on potential franchise QB Jimmy Clausen out of Notre Dame. They would start Clausen in ten games and saw themselves go from 8-8 and scoring 315 points the year before, to 2-14 and scoring a franchise-low 196 points in the year Clausen. Carolina did get a little lucky with their terrible timing on Clausen though and wound up drafting Cam Newton to turn things around.
Oh boy, did he.
The Panthers scored 406 points last season, 5th most in the NFL, and Newton scored a QB-record 14 rushing touchdowns while throwing for 21 more. In their 17-year history, Carolina has never had quite a player like Newton. He seems to have the potential to take this franchise as far as he wants to take them. The issue for fantasy owners is that outside of Newton and Steve Smith, is their anyone you can trust as a starter?
This is a team that scores based on the sum of it's parts, with four ball-carriers and no proven number two receiver. So, what should you expect?
2011 Record: 6-10
He had one of the best rookie seasons for a rookie in fantasy football history: 310 of 517, 60%, 4,051 yards, 21 TD, 17 INT, 706 yards rushing, 14 TD. Newton immediately eclipsed most NFL quarterbacks to make his case as "elite" while it takes most QBs years to get to that point. That could be part of what's prompting many people to consider him a bust this season, wondering how much value he'll have if he's asked to run less and become a more efficient pocket passer. I'm not that concerned.
Do I expect him to rush for 14 touchdowns again? No. Could he? Yes. Do I expect him to rush for less than 8 touchdowns? No. In a perfect world, the Panthers would have added another receiver to produce opposite of Steve Smith but instead they're expecting Brandon LaFell to step up in his third season. That's a little concerning to me but Newton still had an excellent season with this group of receivers. I'd definitely be fine with banking on Newton as an elite QB.
2012 Projection: 62%, 4,200 yards, 24 TD, 14 INT. 600 yards rushing, 10 TD.
Jimmy Clausen and Derek Anderson are two of the most concerning backups in the NFL. Clausen had one of the worst rookie seasons ever, throwing 3 touchdowns in ten starts while the Panthers scored the fewest points in their franchise history. It's surprising that he's still on the team.
Almost half of his career touchdowns came in 2008. Williams is talented but can't be counted on for consistent fantasy production because of the sharing situation. This system could keep him healthy well into his thirties with less than 1,000 career carries as it is, but unless Stewart gets hurt or vice versa, this is a tough situation to work with in fantasy.
2012 Projection: 140 carries, 700 yards, 6 TD
The two backs were successful as a team but they combined for just one 100-yard game in 2011 and neither rushed more than 15 times in a single game. Welcome Mike Tolbert to the situation.
2012 Projection: 130 carries, 670 yards, 4 TD. 350 yards receiving.
Tolbert had almost 1,000 total yards in each of the last two seasons but how does his production change as the third-back in Carolina? Stewart could start the season on the sideline which would increase Tolbert's carries for a week or two but then what? I expect him to steal some of those goal line carries and take away some of Newton's running game.
2012 Projection: 80 carries, 400 yards, 6 TD
A season with Clausen nearly ended the relevancy of Smith when he had 554 yards in fourteen games. Was it his age or did he just need a boost behind center? Smith had 1,394 yards on 17.6 yards per catch, his best season since 2008. So again we have to ask ourselves if he's getting over the hill or if he is capable of more seasons over 1,300 yards.
2012 Projection: 75 catches, 1,200 yards, 9 TD
As said earlier, LaFell is being leaned on to be the number two receiver in Carolina. He was second on the team last year and had 613 yards in his second year. I'm not ready to call him a WR3 in fantasy leagues, but he's going to be given the opportunity in a high-scoring offense. Worth a flier.
2012 Projection: 50 catches, 800 yards, 5 TD
Murphy was brought in from Oakland and while he didn't do much in the passing game last season, he has a career of 15.2 yards per catch in ninety catches in three years. He will have the best chance to be worth something in fantasy this season and a change of scenery could do him well. Edwards has been a disappointment project after playing QB at Appalachian State, but survived roster cuts.
Olsen and Shockey combined for 995 receiving yards in 2011 but Shockey is gone and there are no other tight end receiving options in Carolina. Ben Hartsock and Gary Barnidge won't be catching any passes. So if Cam decides to remain just as focused on the tight end position this year, it could be a big year for Olsen.
2012 Projection: 65 catches, 750 yards, 4 TD